Today I’m pleased to welcome author Sara Fujimura to the blog. I hope you enjoy getting to meet Sara and don’t forget to check out her book.
1. Please tell us a bit about what inspired you to begin your journey as an author?
Like a lot of authors, I started my writing career doing fan fiction. Eighth-grade Algebra is much more fun when you can craft exciting (but plotless) tales of pirates and space journeys and sometimes pirates on space journeys with your twin sister and your two BFFs. Things that were on my radar in 8th grade: Duran Duran, The Pirate Movie (that cheesetastic Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins musical), and Return of the Jedi. That pretty much explains the content of my fan fiction. As I actually had to pay attention in 9th-grade Geometry, The Story (that’s what we called the tome), eventually died out and my writing in general with it. I didn’t start writing fiction again until 1998, and even then I had more success writing nonfiction magazine articles than short stories and novels. I love the human stories that often come along with nonfiction, so it’s no surprise that my YA fiction projects have a lot of truth and facts in them.
2. What inspired you to start Hapa Day and what does the day celebrate?
Hapa* Day on March 14th was created as a symbol of love for multiracial/multiethnic individuals around the world with Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry. I didn’t start Hapa Day. I just put my own spin on it. I’m not sure who started it, but I found out about Hapa Day through Everything Hapa. I did a blog post a few years ago in my son’s birthday month called Hapa Heroes because I was having such a hard time finding YA books for him with Asian/Hapa boys as the MC. When I found out about Hapa Day, I realigned with it and expanded it to include YA books featuring a hapa MC or hapa Love Interest of either sex. I keep a running list on my website www.sarafujimura.com and do an update and social media push each year to feature the new titles. Though the list is growing, it is still incredibly short. Just like on TV and in movies, finding an Asian or hapa boy as the hero or love interest of the story is still harder to find than a unicorn. I wrote Tanabata Wish to let these boys—including my own son—know that, yes, you can be the Love Interest, too. Also in my book, David Takamatsu does no martial arts, isn’t any more technologically proficient than your average teen, and definitely is not friend-zoned by Sky.
*Not everybody likes the term hapa, the Hawaiian word for “half,” but many in the Asian/Pacific Islander community have adopted the word as a term of pride. My teen children prefer hapa to haafu, the Japanese term for biracial people, so that’s what I use.
3. Can you share with us a bit about your book, Tanabata Wish, and how you got your story idea?
Tanabata Wish took about ten years and a million drafts to solidify into the final product, but I always knew I wanted to tell a story that reflected my children’s worldview. Americans who have lived abroad—whether it was for a summer, like Sky, or for an extended time period—know that you are forever changed by the experience. It makes you reevaluate everything about yourself, and even if you come back into your “normal,” it’s never truly normal again. I also have many biracial/bicultural teens in my life. Many of them have the same push-pull with identity in high school that David does. He’s got a foot in both American and Japanese culture, and yet both sides reinforce that he’s never truly either. Unfortunately, my children have received that same message at times. My husband, Toshi, is originally from Nagoya, and we go to Japan every summer for about a month to stay with my in-laws who now live in Gifu Prefecture. Sky’s family’s apartment and daily life were pulled from my experience of living in an apartment in Nagoya with two small children for a small part of one summer. From the Tanabata matsuri to the Nagoya Dome to the golden clock in front of the Takashimaya department store, and more, Japan is very much its own character in this book. I totally geek out when I can visit real places that authors have embedded in their books (though we will not discuss my trip to Forks in 2008), so I wanted to include a bunch of real places in Nagoya that people could go visit or may have already been to during their adventures in Japan.
4. You mentioned Tanabata Wish revolved around the Japanese Star Festival, can you tell us a bit about this festival and how it plays into the story?
There are several versions of the Tanabata story (including the original story from China) that are celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month. Nagoya uses July 7th, but other parts of Japan use the seventh lunar month instead. You can watch the whole story at the link below*, but in a nutshell: Tanabata is a festival celebrating star-crossed lovers Orihime (the Weaver Princess) and her true love Hikoboshi (the Celestial Cow Herder) who are separated by the Amanogawa (Milky Way) and only allowed to meet once a year. The festival celebrates love, and people frequently write wishes on little slips of paper called tanzaku. Though my version of Tanabata doesn’t include mystical elements, I do send Sky and David—in Japanese attire—to the famous Ichinomiya Tanabata Matsuri for an authentic and, of course, romantic experience.
*Tanabata Story with English subtitles https://youtu.be/F9_9MM85z6I
5. Do you prefer series or standalone books?
One of my favorite authors is Stephanie Perkins. I like how she creates standalone books, but we still get cameos from our favorite characters from previous books. I’d like to do that with my future books, though the historical fiction ones are going to present a challenge. BTW, I often use Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss as a comp book for Tanabata Wish. It has some of the same themes and questions for the main characters and the boys in their lives who are all trying to figure out how to navigate between two cultures on top of the usual teen identity issues.
6. If you could go on an adventure with one fictional character who would it be?
I would love to step inside Anna and the French Kiss and live at the School of America in Paris. I never got to be an exchange student in high school or college, and that’s one of my regrets. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take my children (now 16 & 18) to Japan every summer for the last twelve years. Though my language skills are still crap, I’ve been able to see parts of Japan that most foreigners—both tourists and ex-pats—never get to see. My mother-in-law is a retired English teacher, so she is able to answer a lot of my whys. She also sparked my interest in Japanese cooking, which spilled over into Sky’s character.
7. What can readers be on the lookout for from you next?
Next up in my queue, a YA historical fiction set during the Spanish influenza epidemic. It’s like Dr. Quinn meets Downton Abbey but in 1918 Philadelphia. One interesting fact, when I was in Philadelphia a few years ago doing some preliminary research, I caught the worst case of influenza that I’d had in decades. Of course being a writer, I used it as source material later. Method Writing for the win! Though at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to ever make it back to Arizona to actually write the book.
About the Author:
I’m the American half of our Japanese-American family. I spend about a month each summer at my in-laws’ house in rural Japan with my teen-aged children. So it will be no surprise that I’ve written about Japanese culture and raising bicultural kids for such magazines as APPLESEEDS, LEARNING THROUGH HISTORY, EAST WEST, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS, and MOTHERING, as well as, writing travel-related articles for the book TO JAPAN WITH LOVE. I have been a professional freelance writer and creative writing teacher for over a decade. Along with school visits, I have done presentations for SCBWI-Arizona, SCBWI-Japan, Girl Scouts, RWA, ONEBOOKAZ, Phoenix Comicon, and at several anime/manga/Japanese culture conventions. I’m passionate about literacy and supporting the next generation of writers. I’m proud to be the organizer of Rock the Drop-Phoenix, a guerrilla literacy event to support YALSA’s Teen Read Week.
About the Book:
Phoenix-native Skyler Doucet’s plans with her BFF are ruined when her mom and Japanese stepfather move the entire family to Nagoya, Japan for the summer before her senior year. But when David Takamatsu, biracial Japanese-American boy, invades Skyler’s space (and her heart), this fish out of water in Japan starts to wonder if it’s the pond back home that might be too small.
“A delightful debut! Tanabata Wish is the perfect summer read for anyone who longs for life-altering adventure and swoon-worthy romance. My bags are packed. Prepare to fall in love: with Sky, with David, and with all of Japan!” ~ Tera Lynn Childs, award-winning author of Oh. My. Gods., Forgive My Fins, and Darkly Fae.
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